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Belmont Shore goes into this weekend's game with Los Angeles in solid position to take 1st place in Southern California.
Sure they are essentially tied with Santa Monica, but Shore has a slightly easier final four games.
Both teams will face the tenacious San Diego Aztecs and struggling clubs Las Vegas Blackjacks and Back Bay. But Santa Monica has to take on OMBAC, and that could prove their undoing, as OMBAC has been playing quite well of late.
Belmont Shore should count themselves fortunate to come away with a victory against OMBAC last weekend. the San Diego club scored at the end of the game, but Zachary Pangelinan's touchline conversion glanced off one post and hit the other before being rejected - game over, 27-25 for Belmont Shore.
"I think we defended well, and really our defense at least did enough to make the score in the corner," said Belmont Shore Coach Ray Egan. "OMBAC played really well, and we found we need to tidy up a few things. We had too many moments when we tried to score tries or make a big line break from first phase. We need to be more patient."
Egan was pleased with his forwards' effort, especially in the scrum, where they stole several OMBAC put-ins.
"We were dominant at times," he said. "And we defended the lineout very well."
Flanker Peter Dahl continues his fine run of form, and No.8 Eric Duechle is a terror off the back of the scrum. With center-turned-flanker Jack Tracy, they form an outstanding back row.
The whole tight five, led by Ian Carpenter, has upped its game, also. Tracy was the only forward to score for Shore last week, but in the backs Ed Pitts notched a try from center and fullback Mike Te'o, dividing his time between he USA 7s team and his club, scored two.
But more than that for Egan, Belmont Shore handled being shaken, two weeks after losing their first game of the season, 26-22 to Santa Monica.
"We lost our composure against Santa Monica," said Egan. "They hurt us."
So, too, did OMBAC, a club that has to be the best 3-4 team in the country. They ace the Old Aztecs this weekend in a game likely to decide who finishes 3rd.
"We are finally starting to click," Said OMBAC flyhalf Pangelinan. "Guys are healthy. In previous years we were looking to peak too early in the season. We want to peak closer to the end of the season."
After beating Belmont Shore, Santa Monica looked a little full of themselves against Los Angeles. They attacked LA with pace and power, but seemed to want to score tries too quickly - they were as impatient as Belmont Shore. The result was tries were not scored due to dropped balls.
But in the second half, they exploded, and showed an overall team speed that left LA slogging through the mud. Kelly Serfoss, Padraig Cremin, and Andrew Woolley all scored tries, and Shane Morales scored two to put LA away 40-12.
So it all comes down to these four weeks. This weekend, if Belmont Shore can't put away LA, they have problems. More likely, it will be Santa Monica under pressure April 6 when they face OMBAC. Meanwhile OMBAC and the Old Aztecs both have a lot of work to do to navigate a tough home stretch. With Belmont Shore, Los Angeles, Santa Monica and OMBAC left to play, the Old Aztecs will not have an easy road.
Below, video highlights of Santa Monica over LA.